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LUKE WOOD

Over the past 30 years, Beats Electronics president Luke Wood has been a key player in the music business. From Kurt Cobain to Elliott Smith and Phoebe Bridgers, he’s been instrumental in the careers of some of the most talented songwriters of the modern era, all the while staying true to a creative approach that encourages experimentation and embraces the weird. We visit him at home in Los Angeles to talk guitar and find out more…

This 1959 Fender Jazzmaster is Luke’s number one electric. Earlier this year he appeared onstage with Teenage Fanclub and used the guitar on the band’s 1990 classic, Everything Flows. He bought the guitar from Keith Nealy, a member of early 1990s New York outfit, Cell. “He was a really good guitar player. Before Cell, he was the guitar tech for Sonic Youth for several years. That Jazzmaster had been with Sonic Youth for several years. The frets got a little worn down, so Thurston didn’t like it anymore. In the late 80s, nobody gave a shit. It was not a popular guitar. So Keith sold it to me for like $500. I got it refretted and ever since then it’s been my go-to, golden guitar. It just sounds perfect. As a touring musician I had other Jazzmasters that I would bring on the road, but I couldn’t wait to get home to that guitar.”

Think of an amazing American alternativerock record from the 1990s or 2000s; the chances are that Luke Wood was in the room when it was recorded. For several decades, the Rochester, New York native has been at the bleeding edge of the US music industry, whether helping shape the careers of Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Weezer, Elliott Smith, Jimmy Eat World and countless others during his time at Geffen, DreamWorks and Interscope, or heading up Beats Electronics – the headphone and speaker company founded by Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine that was acquired by Apple for $3 billion in 2014.

Along with his role at Beats, Wood holds a seat on Fender’s board of directors and he also recorded one of Phoebe Bridgers’ first demos. To refer to him simply as influential would be a huge understatement.

High over the achingly hip Los Angeles neighbourhood of Silver Lake, we wind our way up the driveway of Silvertop, the mid-century modern masterpiece that Luke Wood calls home. It was designed by John Lautner – the famed architect who cut his teeth under the tutelage of none other than Frank Lloyd Wright back in the 1930s and went on to create modernist structures including Elrod House in Palm Springs, better known as Willard Whyte’s residence in Diamonds Are Forever. Wood and his wife, writer Sophia Nardin, bought Silvertop in late 2014 and carried out extensive renovations over the following three years.

The setting, with its panoramic views across LA and beyond, is as breathtaking as the daring concrete and glass structure itself, but before we head downstairs to check out Wood’s studio space and gawk at his array of guitars, we wonder what inspired him to pick up the instrument in the first place. “I started playing guitar when I was eight years old,” he remembers, “because I fell in love with Blondie’s One Way Or Another. So my version of that was a Dunlop tennis racquet and a tie, in front of the mirror.”

Before too long, he graduated to a real guitar – an Electra model with humbuckers and active electronics – but Rochester’s northerly location on Lake Ontario meant it wasn’t exactly a regular haunt for touring acts.

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